Learn More About Play Therapy for Childhood Anxiety

Posted on 04/10/2014 07:30:00 AM

This was an article I wrote for South Meridian Magazine and thought I would also share it here as many of you are parents and might benefit from the information: 



In an effort to learn how to be more effective with children, I decided to interview a colleague, Trina Fisher, to talk about her work with children. Trina is a licensed clinical social worker in Eagle, and works with young children to help them cope with various issues.


What is the difference between counseling adults and children?  Children can’t sit for an hour and have a conversation. They are too active, and don’t process information the way adults do.To help them, we have to be on their level, and engage in play therapy. Playing is how they process information, make sense of their world, and develop mastery of skills.


What is play therapy?  Play therapy is a form of counseling that incorporates play as a way to help children communicate their thoughts, emotions, concerns about what is happening in their life.  It can be structured (directed or prescribed) or unstructured (child-centered).  With directed play therapy I may use a specific technique to teach a skill.  With child-centered work, I primarily let the child play to tell me their story, and work through the core issue(s) the child is dealing with. I typically check in with parents at the end of the session, without the child present, so the parents can discuss any concerns they have. They may be assigned homework to do with the child. 


What is a common childhood issue?  Many children experience anxiety. It is shown in a variety of ways, such as sleeplessness, bedwetting, acting out, and an increase in racing/repetitive/negative thoughts. Common triggers for childhood anxiety include separation and/or divorce, death of a loved one, significant life changes, abuse, or even having too many scheduled activities.


What are some simple things parents can do to help their child cope with anxiety or worry?  First, with adults we teach diaphragmatic breathing, but with children, we just called it Bubble Breathing.  Get a bottle of bubbles and ask your child to blow the biggest bubble she can--that means a slow, steady, thorough exhalation of air. Once they’ve got the breathing technique down, if you’re in a situation where it’s inconvenient to bring out the bubbles, just ask him to imagine blowing 10 of the biggest bubbles ever.

Second, notice your child’s cues.  For example, after spending a day at school having to “be good”, followed directly from the bus to the grocery store for an hour may lead to acting out simply because the child has done all the ‘be good’ he can do for a day without a break. While it’s not faster, it may be more pleasant to go home and let the child have unstructured outdoor play time and a snack, then go to the store. As adults, we might perceive the behavior as spoiled and cranky.  We get irritated which only stresses the child. Certainly we can’t always arrange our schedule around the child, but if we know what are situations which increase anxiety, we can do our best to work around them when possible.

Finally, many children need a consistent schedule. Knowing what to expect, or when something is to occur can help many children manage the anxiousness.  Many children also need transitional objects during moments of higher anxiety or stress, something that is comforting they can hold or cuddle.

To learn more about play therapy and how it might be right for your child, go to  

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